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  • Writer's pictureJessica Morgan McAtee

Discover the Joy of Labeling Plants in Your Personal Butterfly Botanical Garden

Visiting a botanical garden brings me profound joy. If you are reading this, you can probably relate. My all-time favorite in Florida is Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. My aim was to recreate some of that joy in my own landscape to share with others.

Botanic Gardens

The definition of a botanic garden has changed over time. They began as simply, a place open to the public where plants are labeled. According to that original definition, one could potentially create a personal botanic garden in their own landscape, which is what my simple aim is.

The International Association of Botanic Gardens decided in 1963 that a botanic garden is a place ‘ open to the public in which the plants are labelled’.

In our global community, things are more complex. A botanic garden is now more sophisticated than what it originally was. What is a Botanic(al) Garden by today's standards exactly?

Now, they also do things such as list the origin of plants, conduct rigorous research, exchange plants and information with other institutions and their locations are relatively permanent. Generally they support biodiversity conservation. They keep detailed records of plants and often group related plants together on display in their gardens.

That's a tall order for you and me.

On a smaller scale, I hope to invite others to my garden, which is my variation of "open to the public." Maybe I cannot create an elaborate institution, but I can share useful knowledge with my neighbors.

It is my intent to preserve butterfly species, and that, of course, involves including their plants in my landscape. The main theme of my garden is butterflies. Even though my space isn't very large, there are the beginnings of specific garden areas with particular plants grouped. Ideas for this in a home landscape may be butterfly garden, ornamentals, edibles, palms, bromeliads, night bloomers or other creative groupings. Then there is labeling plants, which is a critical component and what this post is mostly about.

Scientific Names in Butterfly Botanic Gardens

Do you remember from grade-school science class the list: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species? Every living organism is officially classified in a system called binomial nomenclature, or a two-term naming system. Each living thing is given a name made up of their genus and species, those are the two terms. Technically, the first name (genus) is capitalized and the second name (species) is not capitalized. Both are written in italics. Plants are in the plant kingdom and butterflies are in the animal kingdom.

When we discuss plants or butterflies, the scientific name is important. This is because many people use the same common name for multiple different species. Many people tell me about the "yellow monarchs," which, of course, isn't a thing. Monarch is not the scientific name, it is the common name. The proper species title for Monarch using binomial nomenclature is Danaus plexippus and there are only orange ones! Yet, uninformed people misuse common names all the time.

To make things more complicated, several common names can be given for each plant. But there is always only one scientific name. Botanic gardens always provide the scientific name and they often also include a common one. So in my garden, I have chosen to include both the scientific name and one common name on my labels.

Another useful distinction is to mark whether or not the plant is native to the area it is planted in. On my labels, I mark natives with an asterisk. Furthermore, since my garden is primarily designed as a butterfly habitat, the butterfly hosts are also marked with a butterfly.

Since Bahama Cassia is native to Florida, there is an asterisk. Since it hosts lepidoptera, there is a butterfly pictured

If a plant is neither native or a host plant, the label only contains the scientific and common names with no embellishment.

Which Plants to Label in Your Butterfly Botanic Garden

My current garden is new because we moved here two years ago. There was only a lawn and so I began with a clean slate. It is not complete, it is a work in progress. Every plant that is currently here was added by me fairly recently and I still had many of the tags and pots that they came with.

There are dozens of plants that are already established but I didn't want to label every single one. Based on the limited amount of metal labels that I had, which numbered twenty-five, I selected twenty-five plants to spotlight with a permanent label. This decision was made based on how hearty they were, how long I expected them to live (for instance I didn't label my tender herbs), how unique the plant was and how likely I was to remember the name. Also, some people who visit my garden regularly ask about certain plants, so those were also selected for labeling.

Gathering Accurate Information For Your Personal Botanic Garden

I save most of my plastic pots to reuse. So, I went through the entire stack on the side of the house to verify names. I jotted this down on a notepad and used it as my first step.

Obviously, you will need to know the names of the plants you wish to label. The easiest way is to ask the nursery to provide you with that information when you buy the plants. Often this is on the tag or container it comes in. But, what if you already planted them or someone else did long ago?

All scientific names can be verified by university websites, if possible the University of Florida's site should be used. I studied horticulture and entomology there, so I am biased. Shout out to my brilliant professor, Dr. Ed Gilman who authored many of the articles on trees!

After you select which plants to label and then identify their scientific and common names, you are ready to create labels.


There are multiple ways to label plants and you can do it frugally or on an extravagant budget.

How I did it: for more temporary plants (annuals) or those that are new to me and therefore may not last long-term, I used temporary wooden markers that I wrote on with a sharpie. This is obviously not going to last for very long, but it is a basic way to label.

On permanent plants that I wanted to showcase, the combination I ended up using was a 25 pack of metal signs combined with a printer that made tape labels sized for two to three rows of lettering per sign. The metal signs came with an ink marker, so the tape labels weren't necessary, but I wanted cleaner lines and more permanence. The printer came with a roll of white tape with black lettering which would have been enough for all twenty-five signs but I chose another color instead. There are multiple color combos to select from, but I wanted to use black tape with white lettering for ease of reading and so I purchased another roll of tape.

This inexpensive printer created the labels in my personal botanical garden.

This label maker came with a cool feature of "framing" the words. One of the frames to select from is a flying butterfly and that is how I added that image to the host plant labels.

The font can be justified to fit the label which is why some labels are easier to read than others. Whenever two common names are utilized for a plant, I chose the one with fewer letters so that the label was more legible. Also, when labeling several plants of the same genus, I sometimes abbreviated the genus name with the capital letter it begins with as in the photo above with Passiflora incarnata and P. suberosa. I chose not to utilize the italic function on the label maker because it was harder to read. Instead, I wrote the common name in one font style (LA) and the scientific in another (Atlanta).

We almost went with this company that makes beautiful engraved metal signs. The reason I opted not to was if the plant dies, I couldn't reuse the label in the same way I could with the tape-marked ones. If my garden had been more established, I think this could have been a better option.


With my signs in place, I am motivated to invite others to visit my ever-expanding garden. Sharing knowledge about butterflies is a great way to make the world a better place.

Meet me in the Garden,


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1 Comment

Trinity Lutheran Pembroke Pines
Trinity Lutheran Pembroke Pines
Feb 23

So helpful !

Thank you so much ❤️


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